- Sara Johnson
Part 1: Being a Great Quitter
Here’s something I feel both discomfort and pride about: I am really good at quitting.
Being comfortable with / good at / experienced in quitting is part of what attracted me to coaching.
It’s not that I want to encourage all my clients to quit everything, however I do get delight over being with other humans as they acknowledge what is no longer working for them.
Because awareness about what’s not working leads to what could work: what is desired! Oh the place of true desires is so rich! And I feel excited witnessing people bring attention to that place.
What is desired gets us to this juicy place of trying new things. And that’s where coaching gets fun. Well, let’s be honest: it gets fun, and scary, and uncomfortable - a myriad of things.
Trying new things leads to one of my favorite coaching questions: What do you need to say no to and what do you need to say yes to to make this [change/goal/desire] happen?
As an aside, my favorite reframe for anyone struggling with saying no and creating boundaries in their life is, “By saying no to this, what am I saying yes to?” A really handy reframe if “no” feels extremely uncomfortable or prioritizing other people’s needs is the norm.
Part 2: Unconventional, me?
I started to think about my skill in quitting when I was ruminating on this question: What makes risk-taking easier? Or put differently: What helps humans make changes that feel risky?
I was thinking about this question as I prepare to participate in my coach friend Jen’s March Radness Challenge as a “guest expert.” Because March Radness is all about shifting from idea mode into inspired action, Jen asked me to talk about how I have done that in my own life.
More specifically, Jen has asked me to talk about my “unconventional” (her words) life choices which include:
Leaving an established, respected career in the nonprofit sector
Taking a sabbatical year
Starting over in my career “later” in life
Selling a house after deciding homeownership wasn’t for me
Choosing to not have children or get married
Living a more nomadic existence (for now!)
Prioritizing building a small, simple life; i.e: working towards less not more
Most of these choices intersect with the idea of quitting. I quit a good job, I quit being a homeowner, I quit paying rent in order to travel and honor my value of freedom, and I quit centering other people’s expectations of me.
I could go into great depth about any of the above bullet points and we could spend a long time talking about what makes these choices “unconventional.”
Simply put, many of these choices go against societal norms or advice I’ve been receiving my whole life. The important part is that while I don’t judge any of these choices for others, they weren’t the aligned choices for me. And it took a lot of sorting through other people’s ideas for what my life could look like to find what I actually wanted. By the way, I worked with a coach to help with some of this discernment - naturally!
Maybe that’s why a lot of people find my life unconventional or - the other words I have heard - weird, bold, risky. I am unapologetically tuned into myself and what is in alignment with my needs, goals, and desires for my life - at the risk of disappointing others and their expectations for me.
Part 3: How to Take Risks
What has helped me take these risks throughout my life?
The first thing that made risk possible - and that I plan to talk about in more depth on instagram and a future newsletter - is my privilege which includes a big safety net. The safety net is important because it means I could take some major risks and know I had friends, family, and finances to fall back on if things "went badly."
I bring this up in part to shine a light on the systems that support some and hold others back. What I hope to talk about in future writing is how coaches can acknowledge the reality of systems and privilege in the coaching container - something I am still finding my footing around as a coach. For now, I think it would be a terrible omission to not name it when I talk about my capacity and ability to take risks.
The second thing that has really supported me in taking risks is learning how to be more present in my life. Being present is something I’ve always struggled with. The here and now was a place I constantly fled in order to visit the past for learning or travel to the future for dreaming.
But learning how to honor that the only guarantee was the moment I was in right now shifted my focus. And, yes, this took a lot of learning and practice! And I’m still working on it!
If right now I felt misaligned in my very successful nonprofit career, if right now I was living in a delightfully charming little money pit of a house that was making me miserable, if right now I wanted more freedom and adventure, then right now I needed to start to make changes that could get me in better alignment with myself and my hopes for my life!
This isn’t about being impulsive. This isn’t about rushing or not taking your time with change. Change, in fact, takes time!
This is about not glorifying the future as a magical place that solves all your present problems. It’s about not time traveling as a way to avoid action and change now. It's shifting the magic and possibility to the moment you are in. It’s about choosing to believe that you have choice and agency right now. And it’s taking considerate action as you are able and when you are aware you are not aligned with what you desire for your life.
I think it’s worth adding that even though I am in many ways a fantastic quitter, I am also still learning a lot about how to take risks. I am working on being an imperfectionist - i.e: unlearning perfectionism. I am learning to frame things as “practice.” I’m allowing myself to be a beginner and experiment, rather than obsessing over “getting it right” on the first try.
All of these things, including presence, I hope will bring even more ease to risk-taking. And if they are easier, might we take more risks? And if we take more risks, then what?
I have this quote from Anaïs Nin in my head as I think about that question: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” It reminds me so much of what happened when I moved from what wasn’t working in my life to what possibly could. With each risk, slowly but surely, my life blossomed.
May we all believe in the gardens of the present and water the seeds that make them bloom.